From the moment India's first innings passed the home side's score of 344, only one team could win this match, and it wasn't England. But with neither side prepared to seek an advantage, at least not in the bold, risk-taking way that is needed to wrest dying games like this from the funeral parlour, the game looks destined for a draw.
Only some enterprising batting from Alec Stewart prevented rigor mortis from setting in after Rahul Dravid narrowly failed to join his team-mate Saurav Ganguly in making a century on debut. Had he got there, it would have been the first time two debutants from the same team had achieved the feat.
England had exactly half the day's overs to bat and they made 113 for 2, ending the day 28 runs ahead of their opponents. It was a score that was due mainly to Stewart, who announced his innings with three crisply struck boundaries. His unbeaten score of 65 confirms his requited love affair with Lord's, and he now moves into eighth place in the pantheon of the highest run- scorers at this famous ground. It was also the seventh time he has passed 50 under the all-scrutinising gaze of father time, and, if nothing else, it ought to extend the pudding course at next Saturday's selection meeting.
Being a cussed sort of fellow, the idea of this being a final chance to prolong his Test career brought the best out of Stewart - though if Illingworth sticks to hi selectorial guns, it may well be in vain. With his widened stance, he managed to get his feet moving in unison, a platform that clearly helped restore his timing to its sublime best. One leg-side clip off Javagal Srinath was sent streaking to the boundary with a minimum of fuss, a shot he repeated off the slower pace of Anil Kumble.
But as Stewart gained in stature, his opening partner and captain looked to worsen the longer his innings went on. Having survived an opening salvo from the impressive Srinath, Atherton was then struck on the finger by the fast bowler. It was a nasty blow which split an already damaged finger, and was almost identical to the one received by Venkatesh Prasad earlier in the day.
Like the Indian, Atherton received treatment and gamely carried on until Kumble managed to get one past him after tea. The England captain, his bandaged finger bleeding profusely, was clearly in discomfort and should have gone off. He stayed instead, eventually losing his off-stump as he pushed at Kumble with a half-open bat.
It brought Hussain to the crease, and he immediately revealed his confident mood by clobbering a brace of fours. Like most of England's batsmen, Hussain has ceased to treat Kumble as a leg-break bowler, a mistake his 100-odd victims clearly made in the Championship last year. Many believe last year's success has placed more pressure on Kumble, who has looked out of sorts. Even Atherton's wicket, despite lifting the bowler, was due more to batsman error. Unless he can take wickets today, when the pitch will be at its most helpful, a deeply disappointing series beckons.
However, with Hussain going just before the close, caught at gully trying to abort a pull shot off Srinath, England's position was suddenly weakened. With Prasad's finger still likely to be sore, Kumble has every chance of redeeming himself should he be able to help India pull one back in the series. As chances go, it is a remote one, with England needing to bat the best part of two sessions to make the game safe. However, it could well have been different had India batted more aggressively in the morning.
When they resumed, the prospect of Rahul Dravid becoming the second debutant centurion of the match was a very real one. Like the splendidly solid Saurav Ganguly but unlike much of India's upper order at Edgbaston, Dravid is prepared to battle as well as bat. An important distinction at Test level, where the bowling tends to search and probe deeper than all other levels of the game.
The 23-year-old from Karnataka was admirably solid in defence and particularly vigilant against anything just outside his off-stump. With England's bowlers finding swing for the first time in the match, but not an attacking line to complement it, Dravid crawled along, adding 92 runs with Anil Kumble and Javagal Srinath. With shots appearing something of a rarity for the 20,000 spectators - a bit of a surprise considering the pitch played dodo until the third new ball - India failed to take the initiative.
Indeed, had they risked quick runs, England - a side that until Johannesburg collapsed more frequently than a boy scout's tent in a gale - might well have been placed under some intense pressure today. The sluggish scoring eventually undid Dravid - at one stage stuck on 79 for 49 minutes - whose knock was ended by Chris Lewis, five runs short of the landmark hundred. The edged catch to Russell betrayed the kind of tired footwork not untypical of a six-hour stay at the crease.
His disappointment was palpable, and though he received a standing ovation from the crowd, he, if not his team, will probably regret those missing runs this morning. Then came Lewis's first ball to Prasad, and the moment that probably cost India their best chance of levelling this series. Dug in short, the ball rose steeply, pinning the batsman's right glove against the bat handle. It was a blow that required immediate attention from the physio and later limited the bowler to four overs with the new ball.
India won toss
ENGLAND - First Innings 344 (R C Russell 124, G P Thorpe 89; B K V Prasad 5-76).
INDIA - First Innings
(Overnight: 324 for 60)
R S Dravid c Russell b Lewis 95
(363 min, 267 balls, 6 fours)
A Kumble lbw b Martin 14
(116 min, 80 balls, 1 four)
J Srinath b Mullally 19
(62 min, 47 balls, 2 fours)
P L Mhambrey not out 15
(73 min, 42 balls, 2 fours)
B K V Prasad c Stewart b Cork 4
(17 min, 16 balls)
Extras (b11 lb25 w10 nb8) 55
Total (741 min, 169.3 overs) 429
Fall (cont): 7-351 (Kumble) 8-388 (Srinath) 9-419 (Dravid) 10-429 (Prasad).
Bowling: Lewis 40-11-101-3 (5-1-11-0, 6-0-17-1, 5-0-28-1, 5-3-8-0, 4- 1-10-0, 6-3-11-0, 2-1-3-0, 4-2-6-0, 3-0-7-1); Cork 42.3-10-112-2 (nb7 w1) (7-3-16-1, 8-3-15-0, 3-2-1-0, 4-0-16-0, 7-0-35-0, 4-0-12-0, 7-2-13- 0, 2.3-0-4-1); Mullally 39-14-71-3 (nb3 w2) (6-3-8-0, 3-1-10-0, 9-4-11- 1, 5-0-13-0, 5-2-3-1, 5-2-13-0, 6-2-13-1); Martin 34-10-70-1 (5-1-13-0, 6-2-17-0, 4-2-8-0, 5-1-7-0, 1-1-0-0, 8-1-14-1, 5-2-11-0); Irani 12-3-31- 1 (2-1-1-0, 3-1-9-1, 4-0-13-0, 1-1-0-0, 2-0-8-0); Hick 2-0-8-0 (one spell).
Progress: Third day: 100: 186 min, 42.3 overs. 150: 256 min, 57.4 overs. Lunch: 166-4 (Ganguly 63, Jadeja 2) 66 overs. 200: 349 mins, 78.3 overs. New ball taken after 83.1 overs at 212-5. 250: 407 min, 91 overs. Tea: 255-5 (Ganguly 119, Dravid 14) 93 overs. 300: 502 min, 112.5 overs. Bad light stopped play at 6.22pm. Close: 324-6 (Dravid 56, Kumble 6) 125.1 overs. Fourth day: 350: 599 min, 136.3 overs. Lunch: 388-8 (Dravid 79, Mhambrey 0) 155 overs. 400: 690 min, 158.3 overs. New ball taken after 164 overs at 417-8. Innings closed 2.44pm.
Ganguly's 50: 169 min, 108 balls, 8 fours. 100: 340 min, 237 balls, 17 fours. Dravid's 50: 164 min, 117 balls, 4 fours.
ENGLAND - First Innings
*M A Atherton b Kumble 17
(72 min, 51 balls, 2 fours)
A J Stewart not out 65
(187 min, 131 balls, 8 fours)
N Hussain c Dravid b Srinath 28
(96 min, 69 balls, 3 fours)
P J Martin not out 1
(17 min, 20 balls)
Extras (lb1 nb1) 2
Total (for 2, 187 min, 45 overs) 113
Fall: 1-49 (Atherton), 2-109 (Hussain).
Bowling: Srinath 13-4-29-1 (10-3-25-0, 3-1-4-1); Prasad 10-2-31-0 (4- 1-15-0, 6-1-16-0); Kumble 18-6-36-1, Ganguly 1-0-3-0, Mhambrey 3-0-13- 0 (one spell each).
Progress: Fourth day: Tea: 27-0 (Atherton 8, Stewart 19) 10 overs. 50: 76 min, 18.1 overs. 100: 152 min, 36.5 overs.
Stewart's 50: 117 min, 88 balls, 7 fours.
Umpires: H D Bird and D B Hair.
TV Replay umpire: A G T Whitehead.